MINNEAPOLIS — Two recent studies linked the Mediterranean diet to healthy aging.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School examined the influence of diet on aging and found that olive oil in the Mediterranean diet may hold the key to mitigating aging-related diseases.
Earlier studies on the diet suggested red wine was a major contributor to health benefits, due to a compound called resveratrol, which activates certain pathways in cells known to increase lifespan and prevent aging-related diseases. The University of Minnesota study, published Feb. 21 in Molecular Cell, suggests it is the fat in olive oil, another component of the Mediterranean diet, that actually activates this pathway.
Consuming olive oil is not enough to elicit all the health benefits, however. Researchers found that the effects of consuming olive oil are more pronounced when coupled with fasting, limited caloric intake and exercise.
“We found that the way this fat works is it first has to get stored in microscopic things called lipid droplets, which is how our cells store fat,” said Doug Mashek, lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “And then, when the fat is broken down during exercising or fasting, for example, is when the signaling and beneficial effects are realized.”
A five-country study, published Feb. 17 in the journal Gut, found the Mediterranean diet may also promote healthy aging by curbing frailty and cognitive decline.
Scientists from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom found eating a Mediterranean diet for one year increased type of gut bacteria linked to healthy aging while reducing those associated with harmful inflammation in older adults. Sticking to the diet — which is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, olive oil and fish and low in red meat and saturated fat — resulted in an increase in bacteria associated with reduced frailty, such as walking speed and hand grip strength. It also improved brain function and memory.
The changes largely were associated with increases in dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals such as C, B6, B9, copper, potassium, iron, manganese and magnesium.
“The interplay of diet, microbiome and host health is a complex phenomenon influenced by several factors,” researchers said.
They added that age, body mass index and initial dietary habits may influence the Mediterranean diet’s impact on frailty and cognitive decline.